Influence: Advance Your Career

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Self-awareness plays a key role if you want to advance your career and in terms of what you want to achieve in life, says Nickolette Assy
Self-awareness is about knowing who you are: becoming clear about what you are good at; understanding what you can do and what you need to work at; and what you need to hand over to others for best results.
There are three areas that are especially worth your attention for advancing your career: competence, management of boundaries, and professionalism. Ignore these and you will limit your career advancement.
+ Competence: It is important to be competent in what you do as a professional, whether it is taxation, auditing or bookkeeping, to name a few areas of specialisation. Qualify at a reputable institution so that you have a recognised qualification. Commit to continuous learning and development. You also need to stay on top of your game and abreast of new trends and changes relevant to your career and profession.
+ Boundary management: As a professional, it is important to abide by professional standards and follow the code of ethics set by your professional board. This will help you operate within an acceptable framework and with integrity. It can save you time and energy.
+ Professionalism: Always conduct yourself in a professional manner and respect your clients and colleagues. Never bring your profession into disrepute. The unspoken rule is to never take advantage of your client’s confidentiality and trust.
Many people fall into a trap the moment that they feel that they have arrived – in terms of competency. Fortunately or unfortunately in the corporate world, competency is simply not enough to succeed at the top. Awareness of the various systems and rules within the business and the environment as well as tact and diplomacy are vital skills that need to be developed and may become even more important for advancing your career. Lack of these often gets in the way of many a competent and bright executive and manager.

In one particular case study, the line manager of a coachee expressed his concerns about a coachee’s casual dress code. It did not support her role as manager and it impacted on her role as a leader within the business. She was seen to be more of a buddy – instead of as a leader. Simply put, people did not take her seriously. Once she got to understand this, she made some simple changes to her dress style, for example wearing a blazer with jeans, wearing suits to important meetings and shifting to designer labels and generally taking more care with her grooming. This new awareness of how to project herself as a leader, shifted how people perceived her and she became a force to be reckoned with. Over a three-year period she moved from a managerial to an executive to a director position of a multinational business dealing in billions of rand. In her own words, talking to her most recent team: ‘Yes, it does matter what you wear, as my coach Nickolette would say. I owe this lesson to her.’
Professionalism will always work for you no matter what your career path is. Here are ten tips or habits worth paying attention to:
+ Have a clear intention: Become clear about where you see yourself in terms of your career. Intention becomes the driving force for your journey. Set clear goals for yourself to achieve.
+ Be honest: Know who you are and what you stand for. Keep to your word.
Follow a code of ethics: Follow a code of ethics as a professional; this will help you stay true to yourself and to operate in a space with integrity.
+ Be consistent: Dress well and respectably at all times. It is not about the clothes – it is about the impression you leave with others. If you take the time to dress smartly, people will generally make time for you. Other examples of consistency are: have breakfast every morning; pack your lunch box; keep a daily journal; get regular exercise; follow the rules; and do not take shortcuts and unnecessary risks.
+ Own your process: It is your responsibility to understand the system and how it works. Understand the busy times of the business and work with it. Own your mistakes – this makes the environment feel more trusting of you and your abilities.
+ Be socially aware: Social awareness allows you to accurately read situations and people because you are able to understand and empathise with their emotions in the moment.
+ Be emotionally aware: Know who you are in relation to others. Understand the impact you have on others. When you are aware of the needs of others, you will find that they become aware of your needs and they will be more willing to support you.
+ Know when to let go: Choose your fights. Understand the boundaries from an internal and external perspective. Keep to the facts, make your call and then let it go.
+ Take action: Be proactive. Do not wait for others to tell you what to do. Commit to continuous learning and development. Be responsible for your own personal development and continuous education.
+ Always do your best: You do not have to compromise who you are or let anything stand in the way of your success. There are times when you will be challenged, but keeping your eye on the big picture and on your goal of reaching the top will help you get through some of the sticky times. Once you reach the top, you will have a clearer understanding of the internal politics once more. As one of the CFOs I coached said: ‘Be aware of the corporate politics but know that you do not necessarily have to get involved with it.’
To summarise: self-awareness plays a key role in those who have made a success of their careers. Some examples: Johann Rupert, Patrice Motsepe, Allan Gray, Richard Branson, Donald Trump, Warren Buffet and Steve Jobs. Be passionate about what you do and have fun doing it. In the words of Khalil Gibran: ’Work is love made visible.’

Author: Nickolette Assy MPhil (Coaching)(USB) is an executive coach and founder of Nickolette & Associates – Coaching and Mentoring